Ray Romano’s exasperated dopey whining about marital and familial aggravations is ideally suited for the miniaturized sitcom world, where mild tantrums and the ensuing self-flagellation provide just enough anxious energy to fill out the boxy TV frame. In the lethargically meek Welcome to Mooseport, however, his manically flustered angst is so tapered, so reserved, so small, that as we watch him kvetch around the film’s small-town Maine setting, we can feel him literally shrinking in stature right before our eyes, his charisma dissipating long before it hits the edges of the movie screen. Romano’s Handy Harrison, a good-natured handyman who is commitment-phobic when it comes to his veterinarian girlfriend Sally (Maura Tierney), is thrust into a high-profile political race when popular former U.S. president Monroe “Eagle” Cole (Gene Hackman) moves to Mooseport, begins dating Sally, and then decides to run for mayor against Handy. That Handy will turn out the victor—morally, if not literally—is painfully obvious from the get-go, so the film’s only potential saving grace quickly becomes its ability to provide some rampant silliness. Yet Romano, clad in a humdrum ensemble of checkered flannel shirts, blue jeans, and a tattered leather jacket, never uses the film’s few potentially amusing setups to let loose with uninhibited wackiness, and thus the film shuffles along in a predictably safe, family-friendly torpor. Hackman has enough likeably extroverted charm to convey presidential authority, and the actor is game for some middling jokes and one insipid gag involving a pre-mayoral debate game of “rock-paper-scissors,” but as written by screenwriter Tom Schulman, the ex-president, like Welcome to Mooseport itself, is insufferably innocuous and middling. Marcia Gay Harden lends the film a bit of elegance as Cole’s disapproving, motherly right-hand woman, and Rip Torn (as Cole’s cutthroat campaign manager) and Catherine Baranski (as the president’s greedy former wife) vainly offer some maniacal bluster. Still, the illustrious supporting cast can’t elevate the film’s depressingly simple-minded characterization of politics as nasty and shallow, and their presence only further highlights Romano’s amiable banality. Ray, don’t quit your day job.
- 20th Century Fox
- 115 min
- Donald Petrie
- Tom Schulman
- Ray Romano, Gene Hackman, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney, Christine Baranski, Fred Savage, Rip Torn, June Squibb
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